South vs. Midwest: Brad Brownell says recruiting balance favors athleticism over skill

'I think that with the guys we’ve recruited, I’m sure Oliver (Purnell) would have recruited some of them too'

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell talks to Clemson freshman guard T.J. Sapp during a break in the first half against Gardner-Webb at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C.

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell talks to Clemson freshman guard T.J. Sapp during a break in the first half against Gardner-Webb at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C.

Brad Brownell grew up in Evansville, IN as a self-described ‘gym rat.’

If the gym door was open, Brownell would find a ball and a game. Year round.

He developed his skills as a shooter, defender, passer and ball handler, and went on to earn three letters as a player at Division III DePauw University in Greencastle.

Brownell began his coaching career at the University of Evansville under coach Jim Crews, who played for Bobby Knight on Indiana’s undefeated 1976 national championship team, and then served two years as an assistant at the University of Indianapolis.

At that point, Brownell’s career took a southern swing when he was hired as an assistant at UNC-Wilmington. Except for a four-year stint in Ohio as head coach at Wright State, Brownell has spent 14 of the last 18 years coaching college basketball in the South.

He says that when it comes to recruiting, it’s a bit of a different game.

The difference, he says – speaking in broad, general terms – is that young players growing up in the Midwest tend to be basketball specialists, honing skills through countless hours of shooting and passing. Players in the Southeast, by contrast, are often relative latecomers to full-time basketball skill development, but are often more athletic, having come from football and multi-sport backgrounds.

For that reason, Brownell says his first two recruiting classes of 10 players are perhaps more athletic, as a group, than he might have recruited if he was coaching in the Midwest, and not all that different from the players that Oliver Purnell might have recruited to Clemson.

“I don’t know that my recruiting is a ton different than what Oliver was recruiting,” said Brownell recently. “I think people make more of that they should. We’ve tried to continue to recruit kids who we think can help us to be successful – good kids from good programs that want to be coached and work…

“I think there are more guys down here who are athletic that you can try to coach up than there is pure skill. That’s a broad generalization – that there are more better athletes down here playing basketball, and probably just a few less skills guys, in general terms, than in the Midwest.”

Brownell said that practice makes perfect for young players developing their shooting skills.

“At times, it feels like there are more shooters in the Midwest,” he said. “Kids grow up shooting, playing basketball all year long. I think that’s starting to turn and is happening a little more in the South, but I still think the football influence is so strong that you’ve got a lot of kids who play multiple sports. You have guys who quit football maybe their freshman year or sophomore year, and then devote themselves to becoming full-time basketball players.”

For many of the same reasons, the athleticism half of the equation favors the Southeast.

“Probably, with where we’re located, athleticism is easier to recruit,” Brownell said. “There are more athletes down here – more guys who are athletic and can do some things that are difficult to coach.

“I think, too, that there are more full-time high school basketball coaches in the Midwest and Northeast than there are down here. In the South, you see a lot of guys who coach both sports, and as a result, kids may not have the opportunity to get into the gym all the time to get up the shots they need to develop as shooters.”

For Brownell, who came to Clemson with the reputation of being one of college basketball’s most accomplished developers of skill, the added athleticism of the players being recruited can be a plus.

“I was fortunate to have found a bunch of those guys when I got here,” Brownell said. “Oliver’s team had good levels of athleticism, and I think we have a good level of athleticism.

“I think that with the guys we’ve recruited, I’m sure Oliver would have recruited some of them too.”

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